In a significant turn of events, the Federal High Court in Awka, Anambra State, has overturned its previous decision to sack Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Usman Alkali Baba. The court recognized and upheld Alkali’s right to fair hearing as stipulated in Section 36 of the 1999 Constitution, which was not adequately guaranteed by the plaintiff in their application. This ruling comes after careful consideration of the court bailiff’s depositions, which affirmed that the IGP was not properly served with the originating summons.
The honorable Justice Fatun Riman, responding to an application by the counsel representing the Inspector-General of Police, Abdullahi Abdulhakeem Ago, reversed the court’s initial judgment that favored the plaintiff, Okechukwu Nwafor. The ruling had declared Mr. Usman Alkali Baba an illegal occupant of the office of IGP on May 19, 2023. Justice Riman, in his order, emphasized that the continued stay of Baba in office contravened the explicit provisions of the Police Act, 2020, deeming it “unlawful and unconstitutional.” The judgment was issued in response to a suit marked FHC/AKW/CS/58/2023, filed by Okechukwu Nwafor, who claimed to be a taxpayer.
The Inspector-General of Police promptly approached the court, urging them to set aside the judgment on the grounds that another Federal High Court, presided over by Justice J.K. Omotosho in suit FHC/ABJ/CS/31/2023, had already addressed the matter. Additionally, the IGP contended that the judgment should be nullified due to the non-service of the originating processes upon him.
On June 15, 2023, the court issued a 17-page ruling, favoring the arguments presented by the Inspector-General of Police. Justice Riman stated that a court possesses the authority to reverse its judgment in the presence of a fundamental error. He further elaborated, “The law is settled that any court of record, including the Supreme Court, has the inherent jurisdiction to set aside its own Judgment given in any proceeding in which there must have been a fundamental defect such as one which goes to the issue of jurisdiction and competence of the court. Such a judgment is a nullity. A person affected by it is, therefore, entitled ex-debito justiciae to have it set aside. The court can set it aside suo motu, and the person affected may apply by motion and not necessarily by way of appeal. A judgment or order, which is a nullity owing to failure to comply with an essential provision such as service of process, can be set aside by the court which gave it or made the order.”
This recent development has brought a respite for Inspector-General Usman Alkali Baba, who can now continue to discharge his duties. The court’s decision highlights the significance of fair hearing and adherence to due process in legal proceedings. As the matter unfolds, it will undoubtedly have far-reaching implications for the Nigerian legal system.